Opinion: It’s Time to Share the Real Story of the West Hollywood Recovery Center

The Werle Building (Photo by Jon Viscott, courtesy of the City of West Hollywood)

When a West Hollywood City Council member attempts to use the West Hollywood Recovery Center to gain political points it is clear the real story of its inception should be told, if only to memorialize history.

While the personal incentive for the organizers may have been somewhat selfish, as each organizer wanted a local 12 step meeting space. However, no one committed to the process with the intention of creating a vehicle for an ego boost or personal gain. Here are the facts as gathered 15 years after the opening of WHRC by interviewing each original organizer.

In 2001 eleven members from the West Hollywood recovery community came together to try and create a space where all recovery related meetings could be hosted at an affordable rate within the City of West Hollywood.

All eleven members were from different walks of life, backgrounds, economic situations and religious or spiritual beliefs. None had prior professional experience related to community service or fundraising.

Nearly all members had all started their recovery from addiction in 1991 and called their group the “Class of ’91.” The group was organized to acknowledge their common journey in recovery, all having started in that same year. The “Class of 91” formed in 1998 when they began an annual dinner and 12 step meeting held on the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Each year the gathering provided a memorable evening of reflection, gratitude, love and support. Members looked forward to it every year and still do.

During the dinner portion of the 2001 annual gathering, the conversation turned to a previous meeting place, The West Hollywood Drug & Alcohol (WHD&A) Center which had closed five years prior. The original WHD&A Center (where the “Class of ‘91” started their recovery,) first resided just east of Robertson Blvd. on the north side of Santa Monica Blvd. above the Greenwich Village Pizza. The WHD&A Center was then moved to a larger space on the south side of Santa Monica Boulevard just west of Havenhurst Drive, but only a couple years after that move it had been closed because of mismanagement.

While the “Class of ‘91” reminisced in 2001, everyone agreed how incredibly important this facility had been to each of their recoveries and how it facilitated an opportunity individually to create a personal community in a safe, supportive drug free environment. Although there were meetings spread out throughout the West Hollywood and Los Angeles area, we no longer had what the WHD&A Center had provided for our community. All agreed this was crucial to the success of their early recovery.

When someone in the group said, “we are 10 years into our recovery why can’t we create a center?,” there was a unanimous consensus, which started the process of the organization of a new center.

Out of love, service and a desire to create a safe place to hold 12 Step meetings an email was sent to all group members to hold the first planning committee meeting at a group members home in West Hollywood. No one could have imagined what was going to take place and the impact it would have for the West Hollywood community for years to come.

The following people attended the first planning meeting and a collective group met every Tuesday for the next two years.

• Brian Green
• Carlos Martinez
• Mark DeRosa
• Laird McClure
• Phil Rodak
• Michael Holdaway
• Karry Hightower
• Mark Rosenberg
• Jamie Hammons
• Loch Powell
• Greg Wine

During the first year, the planning committee broke into different sub-committees, including building/location, budget, fundraising, non-profit status research, meeting outreach, by-laws and organization structure. The planning meetings were held every Tuesday during the following year and a half. While different members were responsible for specified tasks. All of the above-mentioned members (along with a few others who joined later,) were committed and deeply involved in every aspect of the initial planning stages.

Each of the planning committee members submitted their ideas for a name for the new center, and ultimately decided to call it “the West Hollywood Recovery Center (WHRC)” as it was the original members’ intent to be inclusive of all forms of recovery.

Later the group enlisted an amazing lawyer, Ara Babaian of Encore Law Group LLP, who specializes in non-profits, as well as for-profit companies. Without Ara we could not have succeeded in our goals. Ara worked pro-bono and helped guide the original members through the lengthy process of becoming a non-profit organization. A board of directors was then formed, and a president was elected from the original planning committee. In February 2002, the WHRC was awarded official non-profit 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status from the IRS.

Towards the end of our first year we lost our good friend and original board member Brian Green to AIDS. Brian was a dedicated and tireless member who had contributed immensely to the original planning efforts and then as a member of the first board of directors.

The first fundraiser for the WHRC was held in July 2002 at a member’s home and was co-hosted by Aloma Ichinose, a local socialite, former fashion model, photographer, activist and great supporter of the LGBT recovery community. Aloma invited key community members and was responsible for raising over $20,000 of seed money in one afternoon for us to form the non-profit status and help secure a location.

A key component in the early planning stages was the help that the board received from West Hollywood City Council members John Duran and John D’Amico. They each played a crucial role in lobbying other city council members, furthering our mission and eventually helping to secure at first a temporary and then permanent location.

When then-Mayor John Duran spotted a city property at 626 N. Robertson Blvd. that was not being used, he quickly proposed that the city allow the newly formed WHRC to reside at this location.

What was originally offered to WHRC was an approximate two-year lease featuring a generously reduced monthly rental rate, giving the organization time to save money and find a permanent location. After a lengthy process, the City of West Hollywood offered WHRC the permanent lease and space at the 626 N. Robertson Blvd. address where the WHRC still runs seven days a week.

This effort is a successful example of how community and local government can work together to make a difference in its residents’ lives.

Currently, In 2019, WHRC serves over 7,300 people per week by providing a safe, comfortable environment to gather and hold 12-Step meetings.


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Observer

So who IS the West Hollywood Council Member ?

DLP
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DLP

This entire group of people, saw a deficiiency in our communiity, and they raced to fill it. Jut like they always have done. We put bylaws in place enforcing a rotational balance of power that was reflective of the community it served. I hope that has stayed the same. Thank you for this walk down memory lane. I am now officially in The South (Tennessee) , and cannot wat to get bac to see this beautiful center you have all created!